Friday, June 10, 2016

Amount of Pain Required

My mentor, Elizabeth King, has a chapter in her book, Attention's Loop, called "Level of Difficulty". The chapter details the process of beginning a sculpture, and the endless expansion that occurs with each step; one step forward, three steps backward, the designing of a jig to make a jig, and so on. I just came upon this reference to Nietzsche's description of the "pain required" to write a novel, in Alain de Botton's book, The Consolations of Philosophy. I thought it would be useful to pass on to my students. We are not writing novels, but the concerns are basically the same:

If most works of literature are less fine than Le Rouge et le noir, it is– suggested Nietzsche– not because their authors lack genius, but because they have an incorrect idea of how much pain is required. This is how hard one should try to write a novel:

The recipe for becoming a good novelist... is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says 'I do not have enough talent.' One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should write down anecdotes every day until one has learnt to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one's eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer... one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost for instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise for some ten years; what is then created in the workshop... will be fit to go out into the world.

Addendum: the day after posting this, I happened to watch a TED talk featuring the psychologist, Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi. I'm a longtime fan of his books on flow, etc. The ten-year rule came up again here:
"It has become a kind of a truism in the study of creativity that you can't be creating anything with less than ten years of technical knowledge, immersion in a particular field-- whether it's mathematics or music, it takes that long to be able to begin to change something in a way that it's better than what was there before."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

SJSU Iron Pour, 2016

This August I will have been teaching at SJSU for 14 years... but in all this time I've never participated in any of our occasional iron pours at our foundry. I've attended a lot of them as a spectator, but I haven't ever had time to contribute a mold. This time, although it was quite last-minute, I put two molds in: one ceramic shell mold, and one sand mold. Neither of them were "art" pieces per se, just things that I could come up with quickly to try out the process. Unfortunately, there was a technical problem with the furnace which prevented the iron from flowing properly and getting hot enough, so the iron "froze" in many molds prematurely. One of my molds suffered from this problem, while the other, ceramic shell mold, split open while being poured. Well, very much a learning process. I'm documenting the process here mostly for my own benefit, so I remember what I did right and wrong when I try this again next year.

A urethane mold I made 21 years ago of a tile from an abandoned train station in Gary, Indiana

The poured wax tile

The wax with gating and pour spout. The air vent is on the back side.

The wax with seven coats of ceramic shell (thanks to Steve Davis for applying most of them.) The plaster beaded up badly and rolled right off the surface. Next time: less silicone mold release on my mold.

I made a quick plywood "flask" in the wood shop.

Two industrial-size egg cartons, discarded by the bakery below my apartment. I sandwiched 1/4" of celluclay (paper maché/ paper pulp) between the two to add thickness, then sanded the edges on the edge sander in our shop. I polyurethaned the crate to protect it from moisture.

The crate in the flask box

I "clayed up" the egg carton, following the part line which was higher on two sides.

I shared a batch of resin-bonded sand with another person, and we used what the foundry refers to as "spanky tools" to ram the sand.

I was late getting back to the Foundry after my class, so one of the volunteers at the Foundry rammed up my second half when he mixed his own. This was a different batch of resin and it behaved diferently.

Many kind helpers helped me pull out the sacrificial egg carton

Steve Davis showed me how to make a pour spout

Pour spout and two air vents

I painted on a solution of graphite in denatured alcohol, then set it on fire to burn off the alcohol.

Nathan Cox demonstrated applying the mold cement.

We closed the mold and used the strapping tool to cinch it together.

My first piece being poured at the iron pour.

The day after the pour: jackhammering out the iron that had seized up in the furnace.

My poor mold, almost untouched by the iron! The iron froze barely an inch past the pour spout. It looks like the last teaspoon of waffle batter poured into a waffle iron... So sad to throw this cool mold straight into the dumpster.

The leaf and berry tile (about 3/5 of its intended length,) and the strange smidgeon of egg carton

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Carving Class, November 2015

Although I've been a woodworker for over 20 years, I have never learnt to carve! No shop I've worked in has even had a set of carving tools, so I really had no clue how to even start. This past week I took an amazing five day class that did get me started. Now I need to acquire that first set of carving tools–– and, well, they are not cheap. Here are some pictures of my first two attempts at carving wood, ever.

First project: acanthus leaf in mahogany. Lots of tricky grain direction to deal with!

 I got to pick the second project myself. I chose this draping piece of fabric. Basswood was way more forgiving.

The finished piece of "fabric."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Knowledge

My department chair sent me this beautifully-written story about what has been described as "the hardest test in the world," the London taxi-drivers' exam. The story basically embodies what I aim to communicate in my own work: the prospect of epic and irreversible loss of human knowledge and human capacity when we prioritize economic utility over all else.
The Knowledge

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Wall (After Marfa)" at Dallas Art Fair, April 2015

I installed this piece at the ADA Gallery booth at the Dallas Art Fair in April, 2015. A statement about the piece is here.

Process Pictures:

Amanda Brannon wedging epoxy

Troweling epoxy

One wall chunk done

Four wall chunks curing

Soaking out the bricks

Bricks still soaking...

Digging out the softened bricks

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Scholastic Aptitude series at Untitled Miami 2014

I have work in ADA Gallery's booth at Untitled Contemporary Art Fair in Miami right now. One of my pieces appears in Hi Fructose today.

The three sculptures in the Scholastic Aptitude series are made from notebook and sketchbook paper that has been stack-cut, custom hole-punched a few pages at a time, and then painstakingly spiral-bound. Two of these pieces suggest mountainous terrain, while the third is a woven structure with spiral bindings serving as flexible hinges. Form and Content (Internal Logic) is inspired by the notion that a material object can be the “vessel” for meaning or the bearer of a theory. Notes taken in the conceptualization stage of the piece are used to build the physical piece. Among these notes are quotes from architect Christopher Alexander, art historian E.H. Gombrich, and others, on the nature of pattern and the role of "rules" in patternmaking. Additionally one of Sol LeWitt’s “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” is transcribed. This is an absurd attempt to “overstuff” an object with meaning, resulting in an object that seems merely self-absorbed. The piece called Horror Vacui celebrates the moment in which the excitement of acquiring a pristine new sketchbook turns to intimidation. Application of a Theory acknowledges the often dubious connection between a form and its ostensible “message.” The piece might also suggest a child who has devised a labour-intensive way to avoid her written homework.

Form and Content (Internal Logic), 2014
15" x 21" x 10"
Object made of generative notes towards its own manufacture
College-ruled notebook paper, chipboard, aluminum binding coil, ink 


Horror Vacui, 2014
30" x 20" x 8.5"
Drawing paper, chipboard, wire binding, misc.

Horror Vacui, detail

Application of a Theory, 2014
17.25 x 17.25 x 1.25
Legal-ruled notebook paper, chipboard, aluminum binding coil

Wednesday, April 9, 2014